NBC Promises Better Fall Ratings; New Programming Formulas

PASADENA, CALIF. -- Hit with another low-rated prime-time finish this past season, NBC promised improvement in the upcoming year. "Our ratings will definitely be better," Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, told TV critics at the semi-annual Television Critics Association meeting. "We won't be in fourth place."

Moreover, Reilly says the focus should shift. TV writers may be spending too much time writing about the traditional September-to-May season ratings. There is parity among all networks, and TV viewing takes place year-round on many new venues. "There is an official season," he says. "There is less value in the marketplace. We'd like to get away from it."

NBC is pushing a new formula when it comes to the network business, especially with ad sales rising in the new digital and Internet world. It is taking shows off the Internet and giving them development deals. The network's $1.8 billion traditional TV upfront take this year resulted in "several hundred million dollars in digital benefits," notes Reilly. "It was very significant revenue."



There could be other new financial formulas afoot when it comes to programming. NBC said it is taking a failed WB pilot, "Nobody's Watching," which found its way to YouTube.com, now NBC's marketing and programming partner--and has given the show a script development and Webisodes deal. The show, which was created by "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence, has been downloaded 600,000 times on YouTube.com.

One increasingly traditional way of starting up a new show will continue--having a major sponsor finance a premiere with no or limited commercials. NBC's "Heroes" has a deal with automaker Nissan USA, which will sponsor the show's first episode with limited commercial interruptions.

This fall, NBC has an unusual lineup of two new scripted shows, both based on a "Saturday Night Live"-type ensemble sketch-comedy series. One from Aaron Sorkin is more of a dramatic series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"; the other is a straight comedy, "30 Rock," from "SNL" writer/performer Tina Fey. Both were picked up because they came from hot talents and had good concepts. Had NBC not acted, Reilly says, one show would have gone to a competitor.

For the November sweeps, NBC will air a two-hour live concert featuring Madonna from her "Confessions on a Dance Floor" tour and album.

Despite the departure of Jay Leno from "The Tonight Show" in 2009, NBC is considering other projects or shows with the late-night comedian/host. Reilly says no one assumes Leno will retire from TV performing when his "Tonight Show" contract expires. NBC's "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien will take over "The Tonight Show" when Leno leaves.

This summer, NBC has been basking in a ratings glow from "America's Got Talent," a broad-reaching entertainment competition reality show. But Reilly says NBC's summer could have been even better had it programmed its popular game show of last year: "Deal or No Deal." Reilly says he's saving "Deal" for the fall, calling it a longer-term asset.

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